The bulk email test: An (expected) “fail”

mass email test

mass email testA few weeks ago, I reported here about my decision to develop a tool/system to accommodate larger-volume email distribution outside the rules of the conventional third-party email management services such as Constant Contact and Mailchimp. The commercial services rightfully have set rather stringent permission rules for email communications. ¬†They don’t want to be blocked by anti-spam resources, or associated with spam emails.

However, we anticipated some circumstances where we might wish to use specialized email lists outside the rules of these services to send (in our opinion) relevant news information rather than commercial advertising. The goal: to see if we could reach out and develop some relationships.

After some effort I discovered a service-provider who would set up the system on a different server from our general corporate email and business accounts. The service provider provided (as part of the deal) access to some truly giant — and totally “spammy” — lists — of supposed opportunity seekers, and the like. I passed on using these lists as they are obviously not relevant to our specialized readership.

Then the provider said he had built his own list for construction-related businesses. I could purchase (not rent) this list for $75.00. I decided to “bite” and purchased the 6,000-name list.

There are several rules regarding email marketing. One is you should test carefully before launching, seeking statistically relevant variables that you can test further. I didn’t bother with these formalities — setting up a simple and direct “broadcast” using the entire list. (With the data I have now, I don’t think it would have mattered.)

So, a few hours ago, I sent out the email — promoting this blog and my book. It isn’t a work of art, but the links seemed to work on the trial email, and I wanted to see what would happen.

The results:

Bounce, bounce, and more bounce. I cannot tell how many emails were actually delivered, and how many actually bounced, because the bounce measurement tool within the email software doesn’t seem to have been set up properly (my bad for not properly testing that feature). However, I know the amount of non-delivered returns is far greater than anything I’ve experienced on a regular list.

Of course, it is outside business hours as I write this, but the results so far are still revealing. So far, only two individuals have opened any of the links associated with the email, and eight have “unsubscribed”. The latter number is low, perhaps, for the size and type of the mailing — but I wonder if it is simply because very few emails actually reached the destination.

Based on what I see here, I won’t use this list again.

I’m reminded, directly, about spam’s costs and harmful impact. Spammers, of course, don’t care about what is right and wrong — they will broadcast stuff that is fraudulent, unethical and often totally criminal (such as schemes to infect your computer with trojans, or gather and steal your personal banking information). Extremely low response rates don’t matter, as they aren’t paying for the bandwidth. So they flood the Internet with more and more of their crap. Anti-spam measures and controls from mailing list services have resulted in the reduction of much activity that could be interpreted as spam in some ways, but might be justified in others (such as my experiments here). But the bad guys don’t care. They’ll spam as much as they want, when they want, and my experience that allowed the set-up of the test I’ve just run took me to the edge of the dark-side where these schemes operate.

Nevertheless, I can’t see now why any legitimate business would play around with this sort of stuff. The reward doesn’t equal the risk and effort required to work around the rules within business norms, and when we stretch further, we get into uncomfortable areas where I think few of us wish to go. Lessons learned.

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  1. Mark, you should have asked me! Spammers are using ANY list, or even random email addresses if they consider it, simply because it IS a free-to-access medium, and if even just a FEW people bite, it makes it worth the marketer’s while if there is limited cost for advertising otherwise if enough leads are sent to. List sellers/renters also inflate their list counts with all sorts of “fluff” leads, as you well know, and spammer suppliers are no different. In my estimation, they are likely even worse.

    I once had several telemarketing operation (sales) and we did a rather nice penny in sales and even in marketing lists. The people who bought became leads that we rented to other telemarketers and when they had been beaten to death that way. Some of our list clients retained (stole) copies of these original files and sold them on their own to who knows how many other people, and these same sales “leads” were sold for the nth time to mail order list brokerages to be junk-mailed to death as well after the phone numbers changed or were turned off through use of address appending software (not what I did, I managed people in the call centers and worked in our other operations activities such as setting up new facilities and training new sales staff, that sort of thing).

    That was well over a decade ago (almost two), but I would bet that any of those still in the pile that have email addresses are STILL being hounded. This sort of activity was the norm for the industry (and actually in some cases our version was a REDUCED level of harassment), and it ultimately destroyed what at that time some considered a legitimate method of exposing customers to new item advertising.

    There were all manner of arrangements done over the telephone to cold call recipients. Then cell-phones came out, and the lack of cellular telephones at homes did it in the rest of the way as a marketing tool for reaching housewives and other customers in their homes. That horrible business model combined with improved technology eliminated an entire industry, and those who enjoyed that situation as it was before are now either dead, retired, or working as spammers I suppose.

    It is the same thought process, and as you stated in another of your articles that linked to this one (thank you!), it was the shotgun approach of numbers games. Those who called more people per hour achieved higher sales than those who called fewer. I saw it personally in my own call centers and even when I joined in back then to demonstrate the process to new hires.

    It was another era’s business model, one that probably should just be allowed to die. Spammers are the relics of that era, and eventually, spamming will go away, but you can trust one thing. The mindset of shotgun marketing is here to stay, as someone will ALWAYS believe it works, and to some extent for certain offers that have no integrity or are phrased a certain way, it will for those who are weaker minded customers than others who are more savvy. It does not matter how low the fruit hangs. What matters to the spammer is that the fruit IS there, and that all fruit is sweet regardless of how low it hangs, if the message is sufficient to allow a bite at that fruit. I just think it to be far less ethical now that I had experience actually DOING it in those days, and seeing the inside of the operation for myself. I suppose I had to learn the hard way…

  2. Bill, thanks for these really excellent observations. The mechanics of grinding out sales like you describe lives on in the brutal door-to-door canvassing space; knock on enough doors with whatever you are pitching, and you’ll sell something, perhaps. This sort of intrusive marketing/sales approach seems highly dubious, however, especially in the business-to-business space, but indeed plenty of people seem to be living in the past, with the crappy outbound telemarketing and, yuck, the spam.

    BTW, I really went for “broke” and fired up an offer to the entire 200,000 list. Not a single order that I can track. Ultimately, the spam complaints resulted in IP disabling. I suppose the test succeeded in one way. My use of a separate account/set up resulted in no disruption to our regular business emails, and the service provider lived by his promise and within a few days provisioned another IP address, and we were back in business.

    Now we are focusing on the original concept of the special account. We are researching relevant specialized emails and names, and focusing on offers with substantial utility and value to the specific market. However, again, the results here will be I think much lower than those built through genuine one-on-one relationships and community service.


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